Eat REAL empowers food service leaders to increase access to high quality real food options in K-12 schools. Their Eat REAL Certification is a standards-based evaluation and change management program that encourages school districts to increase plant-based options on menus, increase local procurement of seasonal ingredients, implement farm to school programming, practice responsible waste management and introduce climate-friendly food education in the cafeteria. The program teaches kids to love real food, and how their choices have a significant impact on healing our planet. Funding from Eat the Change Impact will support expansion of the Eat REAL Certification into the next cohort of schools for the 2021-2022 school year.
What is your role at Eat REAL?
My role as the Program Manager for K-12 schools is to support our school districts participating in our certification program and to build relationships with other organizational partners to change the quality and perception of school food and its impact on our students and our planet.
How would you describe your community? What makes it unique?
Our community is made up of folks who believe in the tremendous, lasting impacts school food can have on the health of all our students and the environment. School food service directors and their teams, parents, medical doctors, agricultural professionals, chefs, and health advocates have come together with the mission to bring in and advocate for high quality, responsibly sourced foods in school food, made accessible to ALL children.
What inspired you to get involved with Eat REAL?
Before joining the Eat REAL team, I managed the Breakfast After the Bell program at San Francisco Unified School District and learned so much about both the challenges and amazing work school districts face and do respectively to ensure all students have nutritious and healthy foods to eat every school day. I was excited to join Eat REAL to help more school districts in California and throughout our country transform school food for the health of our students and the environment.
How is the concept of change important to your work? What kind of change does Eat REAL hope to bring about?
Through our 10 evidence-based standards, our assessments and overall certification program help school districts measure their menu by nutrition, procurement, and environmental sustainability benchmarks and improve their menu options and operational practices. These changes in school food teach all students the value of real food, as well as reduce climate change and benefit our planet.
What are your biggest challenges right now?
Like other industries, our school district partners face major supply chain disruptions and labor shortages due to the pandemic while simultaneously seeing an increase in meal participation thanks to updated rules and California recently passing the Universal Free Meals Act! Districts have to make last minute meal changes or even cut individual pizza slice boxes in half to use as serving trays. We have been responsive to these constraints while at the same time recognizing the powerful urgency and need for what we do. The good news is that we are also finding that school leaders feel this urgency and are no less committed to creating change despite the added pressures! (See next question!!)
What is inspiring you right now?
Our incredible food service directors and their teams are a constant source of inspiration. As I noted, they face enormous challenges, especially right now due to the pandemic; yet, they continue to push themselves, adapt, and innovate to, first and foremost, make sure no child goes hungry while also continuing their pre-pandemic mission to serve meals that are healthy for both the students and the planet.
If you were a plant or a fungi, what would you be?
I cannot get enough of perilla leaves (an herb in the mint family)! I grew up eating perilla leaves marinated in soy sauce and garlic as banchan (side dish) or as a substitute for lettuce wrap at KBBQ. So so good!